Friday, August 28, 2015

The Workforce: Bob Sickels, Police Hostler

What do your taxes pay for? It’s Our Money is getting to know some of the 25,000 people who provide city services in Philadelphia to find out what they do, how much they get paid, and how their work affects you.

The Workforce: Bob Sickels, Police Hostler


What do your taxes pay for? It’s Our Money is getting to know some of the 25,000 people who provide city services in Philadelphia to find out what they do, how much they get paid, and how their work affects you.

Bob Sickels

Hostler for the Police Department

Salary range for position: $35,288-$38,603

For 30 years, Bob Sickels was one of many “hostlers” – people who care for horses – for the Philadelphia Police Department’s six-stable mounted unit.

In 2004, the unit was disbanded by former Mayor John Street as a cost-saving measure.

Sickels, who began caring for the city’s horses straight out of W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences, moved on to the Streets Department, where he installed sewer cameras for seven years. He didn’t hate it, but in the sewers, he missed the stables.

Then, earlier this year, he got a call from the PPD asking him to return to the reinstated mounted unit, which Commissioner Charles Ramsey believed would be useful for crowd control.

“When they said, ‘Would you like to come back?’ I said, ‘Sign me up,’” Sickels says. “I always enjoyed working with the horses. Nobody hollers because you close a street. Nobody scre ams. It’s a very mellow environment.”

What he does

Sickels works with the mounted unit’s seven horses at Willow Lake Farms, a private stable where the PPD rents space. Though the city used to employ enough hostlers to rotate shifts, there is now one shift and one hostler. Sickels is it.

Every day after stopping at headquarters to get supplies, Sickels cleans the stalls and walks what the folks at Willow Lake call the “green mile” to get the three larger draft horses kept in a pasture.

He feeds and grooms the horses to prepare them for their patrols – maybe a 1 p.m. Phillies game, maybe a walk along Kelly Drive to acclimate the horses with officers and people.

Because Sickels is the only hostler, the horses have to be back by 3:30 p.m. so he can clean them and check to see if they suffered any bumps and bruises.

He says it’s “frustrating” to be the only hostler at a time when the mounted unit is being rebuilt. “There’s a lot of physical work.” 

How he lives

A city employee for much of his working life, Sickels is, at 57, four years from retirement. He is one of the many city employees who signed up for DROP. Though he says he isn’t sure how much his DROP payment will be, he assured us “it’s nowhere near City Council’s.”

By the time Sickels retires, he says he’ll be able to pay his house off, something he wouldn’t have been able to do if he chose to retire at 57 and live on his pension alone.

Sickels has earned about the same salary since he reached the top of his pay scale before the mounted unit disbanded.

“It’s like everybody, though,” he says. “When everything goes up but your salary, you just adjust.”

He’s happy he’ll be spending his last years with the city back where he started, with the mounted unit.

“When I told [my wife], she said, ‘Now you’re not going to be so miserable, are ya?’”

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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